Clint Bowyer appeared to have one foot in the FOX Sports TV booth already when he announced a week ago that 2020 would be his last full season in the NASCAR Cup Series.
After a valiant effort at the Charlotte Roval on Sunday, where Bowyer gutted out a 10th-place finish without power steering for the final 45 laps of the contest, only four opportunities remain for one last trip to Victory Lane. But this weekend’s visit to the Jayhawk’s home track, Kansas Speedway, will be the most bittersweet of all.
Although Bowyer clearly has come to terms with vacating the seat of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford and beginning the next chapter of his career, the Emporia, Kansas, native was likely expecting a sweeter sendoff from family and friends than the homecoming he’ll experience under the current pandemic.
“Yeah, it’s 2020, right? It is what it is,” Bowyer said. “Is it the perfect time to do all of this? I don’t think 2020 is the perfect time for anything. We all wish it was just behind us already, but timing is something. This opportunity came up. It was an opportunity of a lifetime, an opportunity to stay a part of this sport for many years to come, and that’s the coolest thing about it.
“Was I getting close to being ready to get out of the car and start thinking about it anyways? Yes. Was there a lot of things that happened this year in the schedule and things like that, where I was away from my family doing this on my own that kind of made that decision a little easier yet? Yes. There were a lot of those things, but the fans, the event of a race weekend is something that you just can’t do without.”
The affable 41-year-old is a fan favorite—particularly at the Kansas City track just an hour from where Bowyer grew up and still operates a Toyota dealership. Any other year, requests for tickets and suggestions of where to party would be pouring in.
Perhaps the lack of distractions will help Bowyer concentrate on the task at hand—racing. The 1.5-mile track hasn’t always been kind to its local hero. In 24 starts at Kansas, Bowyer has one podium finish, three top fives and eight top 10s.
“It looks like a cold front is coming in,” Bowyer said. “That’s gonna mean fast, fast speeds. Grip levels are probably going to up. That’s going to be good. That’ll be a premium for putting on a good show for what the fans that we have there. It’s always fun to come back to Kansas, looking forward to it. It’s a cool track, special to me. It’s going to obviously be more special this time around and we’ll be ready for it.
“Coming off a good weekend. Wasn’t the weekend we wanted. Wasn’t the finish that I feel like we deserved. We were extremely fast last weekend, but anytime you have a weekend like that, there’s some pep in your step and an excitement level for not only me, but the rest of our team.”
Last weekend, Bowyer was in a must-win situation to advance to the Round of 8 in the Playoffs. Although his performance this season has improved under the direction of crew chief Johnny Klausmeier, the last time the No. 14 Ford went to Victory Lane was two years ago at the Michigan race in June—Bowyer’s 10th Cup win. He has four opportunities to win with his current team including Martinsville Speedway where he scored his ninth-career victory.
Although he saw the writing on the wall at SHR—Chase Briscoe is expected to drive the No. 14 Ford next season—Bowyer would welcome the opportunity to race in the future.
“I’m definitely open for anything,” Bowyer said. “Hey, you can’t just shut off being a race car driver. Are there tracks that I wish I never see again? Yes, but I’m probably going to see them anyway. I’m going to be there calling the races, but certainly, there are some tracks that I’m really, really going to miss. Those road courses, believe it or not, are right up there. The short tracks and things like that, those are tracks that I felt like my talent and my experience that I’ve learned over the years were really good at some of those tracks.
“I think that if an opportunity comes down the line and somebody was to be out or something like that, I would love to fill in if I could do a good job, and I know I could at some of those tracks, so who knows? I think we’re just going to have to see how it all goes and if an opportunity comes to the table, maybe I’ll take it.”
When Bowyer was discovered 17 years ago by Richard Childress, the team owner touted the young dirt tracker as one of the best prospects he had seen behind the wheel. That’s saying something, given that R.C. had one of top racers of all time—Dale Earnhardt—for the majority of the seven-time champion’s career.
Sixteen seasons in Cup later, does Bowyer have any regrets before leaving the seat on a full-time basis?
“I don’t think anybody is ever satisfied with anything in life,” Bowyer said. “I mean, if you win, you leave, ‘Damn, I wish I had hit that restart a little bit better. I didn’t lead every lap. I had a bad pit stop.’ That’s if you win. There’s certainly things about that that you’ll always be not satisfied about, but I’m very satisfied with being able to be a part of this sport for a long time, having a lot of friends in this sport, making a lot of friends because of this sport, representing so many different organizations and just powerhouses in corporate America.
“It’s cool to have those relationships still to this day, to be able to look back and say, ‘Hey, man, I represented them. They were a sponsor of mine,’ or ‘I know that CEO or that president, and I’m going to dinner with him next week.’ Those are all the things that were afforded to me in my life and my family because of this sport and being a part of it for so long. I don’t regret anything.”
And why would he? Bowyer has made a career out of being that homespun, life-of-the-party personality. Sure, he had good years. Bowyer was in the hunt for the 2007, 2008 and 2012 Cup titles. His 2012 run likely would have been closer had Jeff Gordon not taken him out in the closing laps at Phoenix—but the drivers can discuss the moment during station breaks in the TV booth where fans can feast on Bowyerisms for years to come.
“I can promise you this: I’ve probably had more fun than about anybody out there these last 16 years, probably too much fun sometimes, but would I take anything back or change anything? Absolutely not," Bowyer said.
“I mean, we got close once (to winning a Cup title)—finished second and I think fifth—had good runs within the playoffs and things like that. Did I win as many races I would have liked? No, but I had wonderful opportunities to and raced for a lot of good organizations. I won races for all three manufacturers. That’s something that was super cool. I’ve done a lot. I’m proud of what I’ve done, and I’m satisfied, for sure. There’s no question about it.”